Jack Sharkey’s path to the CEDA chairmanship has been a well-trodden one that first started when he began his A-levels at St Mary’s College in Blackburn.
For it was during those college years that Sharkey got his first professional taste of the hospitality and catering business, working part-time in restaurants to help fund his education.
Starting as a commis chef he progressed to front-of-house and finished as a head waiter, giving him a valuable grounding in what makes a commercial kitchen operation tick.
Yet, while he always had ambitions to get out and earn a living as soon as possible — and was keen to forge a career in sales — it wasn’t actually those unsociable hours spent working in restaurants that sparked his love affair with the catering equipment industry.
In fact, his route into the world of commercial kitchen design and installation was purely accidental, as he explains: “I had planned to go on an around-the-world trip and I needed to boost my cash quickly. A friend offered me a job with a catering equipment business, I met my future wife Janet and the world tour was knocked on the head.
“I ended up investing in the business, but it didn’t go according to plan and I was offered another shareholding, and role as sales director, in an alternative business which turned out to be Independent Catering Supplies (Rossendale) Ltd. That was in 1992 just two years after I married Janet. The ICS business was bought out by Prisma and I was offered a three-year management deal and I actually did four.”
Taking a lead role with 3I venture capital-backed Prisma Group, which included ICS, Preston Catering and Catering Centre Blackburn, Sharkey was able to find his feet in the hustle and bustle of the catering equipment business and display the entrepreneurial spirit that would eventually lead to him establishing his own business.
Sharkey admits that the experiences gained from his time with Prisma Group gave him the resolve and confidence to set up Vision Commercial Kitchens, which he continues to own and run from its premises in Heywood, Lancashire.
Vision was established in 2002 in tandem with a senior management team that remain co-investors and directors in the business. Sharkey credits the mix of experience, skills and disciplines within that team for Vision’s growth in the market more than a decade later.
Sharkey’s ties with CEDA stretch way back before he formed Vision. Catering Centre was a long-term member of the association when Sharkey became the CEDA representative for Prisma in the late 1990s and then the regional chairman for CEDA Central and North.
Sharkey says he admired the ideas and principles that brought CEDA members together, but ironically he was forced to park those for a while once he decided to establish Vision, as newly-formed businesses are not able to meet the qualifying criteria to become a CEDA member to start with.
In forming Vision, Sharkey aimed to bring together the elements that he felt he needed to create a point of difference. Those lessons were drawn from both his early career and the working relationship with CEDA, and were underpinned by a 360-degree focus on customer service.
What started out as a £4m turnover “lifestyle business” has grown 30% year-on-year, with Sharkey attributing that rise to a combination of savvy staff, robust process control and IT systems, and quality management systems accredited to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 and British Standard 18001.
The business now has to keep growing to sustain its customer base, so that notion of a ‘lifestyle business’ has long since dissipated.
The value of education and ongoing personal development is something that Sharkey feels strongly about and despite the daily rigours of running his own catering equipment dealership, he has made sure he’s found time to practice what he preaches.
He was one of the first industry professionals, along with current CEDA vice chair, Vita Whitaker, to complete a MSc degree in International Hospitality Design and Management Consultancy from Sheffield Hallam University.
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Sharkey believes the pace and structure of education in the equipment sector is changing for the better, and he hopes he can help make a difference.
“We are at a crossroads for the catering equipment industry when it comes to education,” he says. “CEDA is proud to be one of the cornerstones in the Tri Education initiative with CESA and FCSI, and bringing education to the fore is crucial in taking the industry forward and strengthening its ability to deliver, cope with change and be professional. Together we are striving to have educational opportunities and recognition on a par with other professions such as architecture
There have been some notable career highlights for Sharkey during his association with CEDA. Last year, for instance, Vision triumphed at the Grand Prix Awards, taking home the ‘Overall Winner’ prize for relocating Harrords’ restaurants facilities.
Five years prior to that it bagged the new CEDA award for ‘Best Sustainable Kitchen’ following its work at the Cameron House Hotel — a scheme Sharkey is particularly proud of — and Bar Baloud and Dinner by Heston.
As Sharkey settles into the chairman’s role, he reflects on the impact that Vision’s membership in the association has had on its business. “My time going to CEDA regional meetings in all weathers has paid off time and again,” he insists.
“Listening to, and learning from, my peers has been vital in forming and evolving my own business strategy in the catering equipment industry. CEDA is important in showcasing the best in the planning and delivery of catering equipment solutions. It brings together the leading businesses in the industry. As I said in my chairman’s opening speech, I look to them for inspiration and aspire to be as good.”
CEDA chair’s three key aims
Jack Sharkey, CEDA’s recently-elected chairman, outlines the three key components for his time in the hotseat.
1) Education: Delivering the Tri Education initiative with CESA and the FCSI.
2) Awareness: Extending CEDA’s reputation by working with CEDA members and getting the message out there to end-users that choosing a CEDA member is a must.
3) Relationships: Closer working relationships with the catering equipment industry associations and those wider industry associations that have synergies with catering equipment and CEDA.
Jack Sharkey: CEDA timeline
– 1997 CEDA rep at Prisma Group
– 1998 CEDA regional chairman Central and North
– 2005 Vision Commercial Kitchens becomes CEDA member
– 2009 Joins CEDA council
– 2010 Board member of limited liability company formed by CEDA –
– 2010 Appointed vice chairman of CEDA
– 2013 Takes over from Iain Munro as CEDA chairman